Category Archives: Speech Rights

First or Second?

The Huffington Post continues its several-weeks-long rant against gun rights today in an article titled, “Protecting Second Amendment While Trampling the First.” The author, one Ken Toltz, claims that those of us who defend gun rights are violating the free speech and free press rights of those who are against us.

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His argument is that we gun-rights supporters have been too loud in our opposition to gun control. He reminds us that Dick Metcalf, once of Guns & Ammo was let go because he pushed gun restrictions in an editorial, and he brings up the open carry protest that was organized outside a restaurant that some Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America whiners were visiting.

Really? That’s all?

Metcalf wrote an article in a magazine devoted to guns and gun owners. Should it come as a surprise to him that the readers didn’t appreciate his support for gun control? But in what way has he been prevented from expressing his opinion? His story has been told by the news media again and again, and he remains free to speak his mind on blogs, in magazines that will have him, and anywhere else that he cares to speak. All that he was denied is the one outlet where his views don’t match the readership.

Regarding the Moms for Gun Bans, if you can’t stand a counterprotest, too bad. The attitude of gun control freaks, one that I have observed repeatedly in debates with them, is that anyone who disagrees with their position is either too stupid for consideration or a bully. It’s the same kind of thing that gets stereotyped in movies about Southern mamas. Whenever someone says something that mama doesn’t like, she gasps and faints. Fortunately, we do not live in that matriarchal tyranny any more. Moms have to provide the same facts and logic that everyone else must offer to win a debate.

But the strangest claim of all of Toltz’s screed is that gun-rights supporters are shutting down the debate. Seriously? Has the media been silent about gun control? Have gun control blogs disappeared? Has The Huffington Post been prevented from advocacy? A short survey will show you that the answer to these questions is no.

Over the years of writing this weblog, I’ve declared my love of both the right of free expression and free speech and of gun rights. I find it bizarre for someone to use one right to call for the violation of another, but that’s what you must be able to do in a free society.

And that’s the limit of what you should be able to do. When it comes to making laws that violate the rights of others, talk is all you have a right to. We who support gun rights will talk. Some of us, myself included, more than others. But action, when it is correct, defends rights.

Innocence and Experience

Over the last week, the world has seen film criticism turned into violent protest. The movie in question, The Innocence of Muslims, portrays the prophet Muhammed as a child-molesting, adultering, homosexual thug. In doing so, it has offended many, some of whom attacked U.S. embassies in North Africa. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three members of his staff in Libya were killed in one of those incidents.

I didn’t want to watch the film, but for the purpose of writing this article, I saw it on YouTube. It’s some thirteen minutes of inept acting, bad dialogue, pathetic effects, and an absence of character development or a coherent plot.

But the protests aren’t over the fact that it’s a lousy movie. The problem that some see in it is that it depicts Muhammed as a bad person. It calls into question the origins of the Islamic religion. Is it offensive? Certainly. Is violence an acceptable response? Certainly not.

The implication of the protests is that the religion in question is too weak to survive criticism or insult. Ideas cannot be defended by violence. Those who accept ideas do have the right to defend themselves against physical harm, but offense doesn’t qualify. People have the right to live and to believe, but ideas do not.

Understand the point that I’m making there. A person has the right to be a Muslim or not, but the religion itself has no right to special protection. Ideas have to stand or fall on their own strengths and flaws. As we’ve seen time and again, nonsense gets the protection of swords and shields, but that doesn’t make it true. Good ideas are often suppressed, but that doesn’t make them false.

So what makes a religion true or false? It’s not scientific evidence or historical events, no matter what some believers may say. Religion isn’t subject to those considerations. What makes the difference is the narrative power of the religion and the meaning that it gives the lives of its participants. In terms of social utility, we can consider whether the religion makes a person better, but that goes beyond the validity of the religion itself.

I’ve seen questions asked about how a film like this could have been allowed. This comes mostly from countries that don’t respect freedom of expression. Those countries also don’t typically respect freedom of religion, either. America has extraordinary religious freedom and no official religion and a high rate of participation in religion. Those two facts are connected.

With that in mind, the right response to an offensive movie is to speak out, to make a new film, to preach, and to argue. If the religion in question has good ideas, it will survive. If not, it’s not worth fighting for in the first place.

My Fellow Americans. . .

We have heard and are going to hear a lot about money in elections. The Citizens United decision declared that a corporation has the same free speech rights as an individual, a really rich individual. So be it. Money has flooded the political system for a long time. But all the proposals to restrain the influence of wealth on government come from an old view of the world. In the past, a candidate needed money to gain support. Campaign staff had to be paid. Air time had to be bought. Ballots for stuffing boxes had be purchased, and some people had to be bribed.

But no more. These days, anyone who can afford an Internet connection or who is near a public library can be an informed voter, and any candidate with the same access can be effective. The names of candidates can be written on ballots at the day of the election. The campaign can be done entirely on-line.

It’s time for voters to take control of their democracy. With that in mind, I propose a new party, provisionally to be named the Union Party with the motto, E Pluribus Unam. I’ll entertain better names, though.

The guiding principle of this party will be liberty in the small and cooperation in the large. With that in mind, let’s go through the typical list of political matters in this country today, as given by OnTheIssues.org:

Abortion:

Abortions in the first two trimesters will be solely the choice of the pregnant woman without irrelevant tests or burdens. During the third trimester, abortions will only be allowed if the health of the woman is in jeopardy. That determination will be made between her and her doctor. The government health program (see below) will pay for abortions. Other plans may choose to do so or not at their discretion.

Budget and the Economy:

1. Debt is dangerous. Getting out of debt must be a goal of every administration until the debt is gone.

2. Tax rates will be 30% on the highest bracket, 20% on the upper middle, 10% on the lower middle, and 0% on the poor, income levels to be added later as needed. Some variation will be permitted in the upper brackets to achieve debt reduction or other goals.

3. The tax code must be written in English, not Ligature Rouge. Deductions must be eliminated.

Civil Rights:

1. Race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other such categories are part of a person’s nature and are not legitimate for consideration in hiring, in acceptance into schools, in legal matters, or in other similar areas of public concern. That goes both ways, of course.

2. Marriage is a matter for religious institutions to decide. Governments should issue civil unions only that will cover taxes, insurance, finances, and similar.

3. Voting districts should be based on geography and population, not on race or political party affiliation.

Corporations:

1. Corporations will be free to operate, provided that they are honest about the products that they sell and that they can show that their effect on the environment is acceptable.

2. Unions have the right to organize if the workers agree to join and to bargain with employers.

3. Any corporation that gets a bailout from the government will be required to operate according to the best interests of the workers and the community.

Crime and Drugs:

1. Usage of drugs will be legalized, and dealers will be required to label their products honestly.

2. Financial criminals will have to spend their sentences paying back their victims, rather than enjoying a state-funded vacation.

3. Violent criminals will be put away for a long time.

Education:

See my previous articles on this subject. To summarize, class sizes will be reduced, total school size will as well. Add to that a rational funding system–in other words, not property taxes. In addition, children will be required to attend only half a day in public schools. They will be taught civics, mathematics, reading, and critical thinking. Their parents may then choose to educate them for the rest of the day at home, at private schools, or in public schools.

State colleges and universities will provide quality education at a price that everyone can afford. Private schools and for-profit schools may do as they wish, so long as all terms are made clear from the beginning.

This will require funding. That’s life.

Energy and the Environment:

America has large reserves of natural gas, and we grow a lot of corn that can be made into fuel. Those two will be temporary sources until wind, solar, and other types of clean energy are in place. Getting from the former to the latter will be a constant goal and action.

Foreign Policy and Free Trade:

1. Europe must learn to defend itself. America will maintain only such bases as are needed to conduct surveillance of the region.

2. There must be a solution to the Israel-Palestine question–likely a three-state solution. If any party in this dispute is unwilling to negotiate, the United States will withdraw support.

3. Iran and China are primary threats to our security for various reasons. Our policy will be one of containment and reduction.

4. North Korea is a pissant little adolescent state. Anything that they throw at us will be paid for twentyfold. No more aid will go to them unless they promise total obedience.

5. Worker rights and the enviroment will be a part of all trade deals, but free trade is the ultimate goal.

Gun Control:

I’ve also written about this, but in principle, in small arms, it’s not the device that matters; it’s the action. The only restrictions will be on those deemed a danger to others after due process of the courts. Cities may also require that weapons remain concealed within their borders and may restrict discharges to self defense shootings. Property owners may do as they wish on their own land, but businesses are public accomodations, as are colleges. Children may use firearms under the supervision of an adult.

Healthcare:

The government will create a national system for anyone who wants to participate–call it Medicare, since we already have that in place. Medicare will be able to negotiate payments the way that any other health company can. Fees will be determined on the basis of a person’s income. Private companies may continue to operate, and people may choose them as desired.

Immigration:

Anyone who wishes to become an American and who will adopt our values of responsibility and freedom is welcome.

Social Security:

Social Security taxes will be assessed on all income, not capped as they currently are.

Technology:

One valid use of public funds is to promote the development of new technologies. This applies particularly to energy and to space. We must have active programs of research, development, and exploration. Corporations, schools, and private individuals may also do their own work, since competition is healthy in this field.

Welfare:

The goal of welfare must be to make the recipient self sufficent. Programs that create dependency will be eliminated. We must be willing to help, but we must also require growth on the part of those who are helped.

That’s the list, more or less. I’ll gladly consider any other items that my readers wish to offer. Of course, one elected official alone won’t be able to accomplish all of this, but much can be done even so. A president, for example, could get cooperation from Democrats for some of this and Republicans for other parts. A president could speak to the people regularly, creating a lot of pressure on Congress. So can anyone else elected on this platform.

With all of this in mind, if nominated, I will run. If elected, I will serve. I will continue to write in any case. Who’s with me?

Principle for Response

The shooting incident of 8 January 2011 has brought out the chorus of reactionary voices that always shriek after any outrage.  The current demand is for limits on both free speech and gun ownership.  Likely, these calls will fall silent as time passes, but they are pointlessly dangerous, and the sane among us need a means of responding.

With that in mind, let’s consider the first two amendments to the U. S. Constitution:

1st:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

2nd:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

From the perspective of a modern libertarian, those two are badly written.  It has taken our nation a long time to figure out what was meant, and those who see the document as a living text see these lines differently from the vision of those who wish to hold to the original intent, whatever that may be.  There is an irony that people who strongly support a broad interpretation of one amendment often want a limited reading of the other.

Here’s what I wish were the actual text:

1st:

Persons within the jurisdiction of the United States have the right to create and distribute their own expressive works, to practice their beliefs, to assemble in groups, and to petition their governments in any manner that does not directly impede the ability of others to do the same.

2nd:

Citizens have the right to own and bear small arms and the right to use them for legitimate purposes, including self defense.

But that’s not how the amendments were written, and we have to deal with the text that we have.  Since the First Amendment mentions only speech and the press, a strict interpretation could be used to limit what is permissible on the Internet.  Those of us who express our opinions in articles such as this one might find that they have annoyed someone in power who would then use the force of law to stop us.  Or the Second Amendment might be read to mean that only an approved state militia is allowed to possess arms.  Weapons of a particular caliber or magazine capacity could be taken from private citizens, as ultimately could any weapon that the government doesn’t want us to have.

That being the case, I want the broadest interpretation of both amendments to be applied.  I do recognize that we’re talking about powerful objects here.  Guns and speech (oral or written) have changed the world many times over.  But that’s what free citizens are able to do–remake their lives as they see fit.

My proposal, then, is that whenever we hear an attempt to ban one, we ought to add in a call to ban the other and see if we could live with that.  You want to ban magazines that can hold more than ten rounds?  Would you accept a similar ban on books of longer than one hundred pages?  You want to ban hate speech?  What about semiautomatic rifles?  I live in Arkansas, but I can buy a book in any other state or have one shipped to me.  With a few exceptions, I can only buy guns in my state of residence.  Depending on the time and the community, certain books, video games, and music have been banned, while the same items were sold in other areas.

The fact is that any government that can take one away from us can take the other.  Today’s government will not be in power tomorrow, and any overreaching that you tolerate now because it goes in a direction that you like can be turned by the next administration, court, or Congress in ways that you would find unacceptable.

The general principle here is that whether we like it or not, both expression and guns are protected in the same way in our Constitution.  Taking one away would be as easy as taking away the other, and if we value our liberties, we must refuse to permit the theft or voluntary loss of either.